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Tet Offensive - When the Tet Offensive was launched by...

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When the Tet Offensive was launched by North Vietnamese forces on January 31, 1968, it marked the turning point for America’s involvement in the Vietnam War . The all out attack was viewed at the time by the US military as being a failed “all or nothing” bid to overrun the American-backed South . Even though the North Vietnamese forces suffered massive casualties, and gained a relatively small amount of territory from the attack, it was a political victory that forced the Americans to the bargaining table . The attacks signified the beginning of the end of American involvement in Vietnam, because as the offensive continued, Americans tired of the widespread attacks. The American media also played a substantial role in the exacerbating the effect of the offensive on the American public’s opinion of the war, which eventually fell so low that politicians had no choice but to recall the troops from battle . The Tet Offensive was planned so that in military defeat, political victory would eventually be reached . Although this seems illogical, the North Vietnamese commanders knew that Americans were not interested in involvement in extended conflicts . In the words of Pham Van Dong, the successor and a close aide of Ho Chi Minh, “Americans don’t like long, inconclusive wars – and this is going to be a long, inconclusive war” (Oberdorfer) . The beginning of the offensive was marked by a buildup of Vietcong forces in the Laotian panhandle of the demilitarized zone . The forces threatened the US marine base in Khe Sanh, which was strategically important for stopping enemy infiltration down the Ho Chi Minh trail, as well as serving as a staging post for operations (Tucker) . The US command felt that holding the Khe Sanh base was important, but was worried that the 6,000 Marines in the base would be overrun by the 20,000 NVA troops who were surrounding them . 1
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In the early hours of January 21, 1968, Khe Sahn came under mortar and rocket fire, which intensified as the morning continued . The president at the time, Lyndon Baines Johnson, was worried that the battle at Khe Sahn would turn out like the battle at Dien Bien Phu, where 13,000 French troops were besieged and overtaken by 50,000 NVA troops . Although the estimated numbers of NVA surrounding the Khe Sahn base were higher than in reality, General Westmoreland assured commanders in Washington that the base was prepared for the attack . In preparation for the attack, supplies and ammunition were continuously being airlifted into the base until anti-aircraft fire became too intense for the airlift to continue . However, attacks on Khe Sanh proved to be a diversion; the major attacks in the Tet Offensive occurred elsewhere . The attacks to come would shock US commanders as the North Vietnamese would shift the campaign from the rural Northern region to the urban South, a region that was thought to be safe .
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